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What is Criminal Justice?

Although society as a whole is relatively civilized, there are always those who do not want to play by the rules. These people are the reason why criminal justice careers exist. People who work in criminal justice care about the welfare and safety of the overall community and strive to keep things as calm and safe as possible. Some choose to enter law enforcement, while others opt to work as social workers and others assist victims.

A criminal justice professional is a person that works within the criminal justice system. When most people think of criminal justice, they immediately think of either the military or law enforcement. But there are many other careers that are included under the criminal justice umbrella that do not require a person become a member of law enforcement. A criminal justice professional is someone who works within the system to ensure that justice is served, victims are helped, and in any possible case criminals are rehabilitated. There is much more to being a criminal justice professional then locking up the bad guy.

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Criminal Justice Education in Iowa

There are several levels of education that a person interested in criminal justice can attain. Below are the four most common levels and some of the courses that might be included in each program. Although a formal education is not technically required to enter the criminal justice industry, for many careers, some form of formal education is at least helpful if not required.

There are a variety of career options in criminal justice, so any person that is interested in the care and safety of those around them could possibly find a career that suits them. In the state of Iowa, there are 22,000 people employed in the protective services. On average, they make $49,000 a year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for workers in the protective services is expected to remain steady through 2030. If you are the type of person that enjoys helping people, believes in safety, and just want to be a positive influence in your surroundings, then a career in criminal justice could be ideal for you. Below are some guidelines to help you determine if this is a good career path for you. Education and career options are also included.

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Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (ACJ)

An associate degree in criminal justice can be used by a variety of professionals. For example, many people can become police officers and prison guards. Police officers do have to go through the police academy, but the degree will make an advancement in their career happen at a faster pace. This degree can also help people who work in a variety of other positions.

Students enrolled in an associate degree program will take courses such as:

  • Intro to Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Criminal Investigation
  • The U.S. Constitution
  • Juvenile Justice

An associate degree typically takes two years to complete, though some people finish in less time while others need more. In many cases, an associate degree will transfer into a bachelor’s degree program if you decide to pursue additional education.

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Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BCJ)

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice might not seem like a flexible option, but the program can be combined with several areas of study, depending on the student’s career goals. For example, a person who wants to be a forensic accountant could combine a business administration degree with a criminal justice degree and have the education needed to start their career. Or you might earn a double bachelor’s in criminal justice and psychology and be well prepared for a variety of careers in law enforcement, psychometrics, and more.

Some community colleges and technical schools will allow a person with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to teach, so entering the educational arena is also an option. And, if you plan to enter into law enforcement but want to rise through the ranks of detective or higher, a bachelor’s degree is often a requirement.

The courses a person will take as part of their program will vary depending on their career goals, but a few of the classes offered in a criminal justice program include:

  • Intro to Criminal Investigation and Forensics
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Criminology
  • Victimology
  • Technology in Criminal Justice
  • Cultural Awareness in Criminal Justice

A bachelor’s degree usually takes three to five years to complete. An internship may or may not be required depending on the student’s career goals.

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Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MCJ)

For those who want to train other law enforcement officers, a master’s in criminal justice is a good idea. People who hold master’s degrees in criminal justice can teach criminal justice courses at colleges and universities. Law enforcement officers that hold a master’s can help train new police recruits at the Police Academy. These professionals can also enter fields such as loss prevention, forensic accounting, and cyber security, especially if they are combining this graduate degree with a degree in business or information technology. The degree also offers an extra level of credibility for those who want to work as private investigators or move into administrative positions at a law enforcement agency.

Graduate programs typically take one to three years to complete and a capstone project or a comprehensive examination are usually required in order to successfully complete the program. Depending on the specialization, an internship within the specialization’s scope might also be required.

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PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (DCJ)

A doctorate degree is not needed to work in criminal justice in most instances. Unless someone wants to teach at the highest level, become a subject matter expert, or strives to become a psychologist or work in forensics in some capacity, this degree, although useful, is not required. Doctorate degree programs typically take five to seven years to complete and require a dissertation (a detailed paper that identifies a problem and provides solutions to that problem by using research and data tracking) and a successful defense of said dissertation.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Iowa

There is no clear-cut path to becoming a criminal justice professional. The closest one comes to a clear path would be choosing a career, getting the education to match that career, and then getting started. However, even that may not be as simple as it seems. Many people go into criminal justice careers thinking they want to do one thing, but then discover that they would rather do something on the other end of the criminal justice spectrum. For example, a person may enter a criminal justice program thinking they want to be a police officer, just to find out that they would prefer to work as a social worker or probation officer. Although both fall under the criminal justice umbrella, they are vastly different career paths.

The first step to becoming a criminal justice professional is starting your education. By taking criminal justice courses, you should be able to determine what path you want to take or if your chosen path is the right one. Once you've zeroed in on the path you want to take, you should match your criminal justice courses so that you are provided the education you need to be successful in your chosen career.

Once you have attained the needed education, it's time to find the criminal justice job that suits you. In many cases, students who interned with an agency or an organization could be offered permanent positions within the organization. If this is not the case, then seek out agencies and organizations that offer the services you want to provide to the community. If you want to enter law enforcement, this will be a good time to start applying to academies in law enforcement. Police officers, state troopers, and sheriff's deputies all have to go through some sort of Police Academy, so find out which one matches the branch of law enforcement you're interested in and apply.

If you have other career goals within the criminal justice umbrella, at this point you should be getting all of your educational needs together and pursuing jobs in your desired industry. For example, if you want to work in cyber security, you'll need to have a criminal justice background, an information technology background, and possibly several certifications in information technology. Exact certifications will vary depending on what area of security you want to enter. Once you have the needed education and certifications, you are ready to pursue a career as a cyber security analyst.

Those who wish to become CIA, FBI, Secret Service, or other specialized agents must follow the requirements of the agency they wish to enter. All of them provide information on training requirements on their respective websites.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

Criminal justice careers are many and varied. Below are a few examples of the careers a person with a criminal justice background could choose from. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it will give you an idea of some of the careers that are available to you.

  • Psychometrists
    When a person is ordered to obtain psychiatric testing, the person who conducts the tests and analyzes their results is called a psychometrist. these people are specially trained in conducting psychological testing and work under the supervision of a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. They are independent by nature, and generally curious about the science of psychiatry and sociology.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    Emergency management coordinators are the people who strive to keep the community safe in the event of a catastrophic event or natural disaster. They’re experienced in working with various first responder agencies, as well as local, state, and federal governments. They also have a knack for working with the community at large, recruiting volunteers for a variety of programs, and understanding what to do if a large group of people are needed to assist in a situation. For example, in a city that is facing potential flooding, the emergency management coordinator would alert the National Guard, and possibly recruit volunteers to place sandbags if a retention wall would help prevent flooding.

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  • Forensic Accountant
    When a white-collar crime is committed, there is often a paper trail that leads to some sort of asset - normally money. When law enforcement needs help tracking down that money or those assets, a forensic accountant is often brought in to do the work. Forensic accountants are specially trained in following accounting processes to zero in on any funds that might be hidden or funneled into other areas. These people are generally CPAs and have added a forensic criminology education in order to work in this field.
  • State Trooper
    State troopers are responsible for protecting the roadways in a state. They work to ensure that Interstate commerce laws are followed and that illegal substances are not brought into the state. In some cases, they are referred to as highway patrol officers.
  • Police Officer
    When people think of criminal justice, a police officer is generally the most common career they think of. Police officers are tasked with keeping the community safe, investigate crimes, testify against criminals they’ve arrested, and work with the community to try and keep it as safe a place as possible.
  • Victim Advocate
    A victim advocate does what the title suggests: they are advocates for victims of crimes. They assist the victim with finding help to assist them emotionally and they often act as liaisons between the victim and law enforcement, the court system, and any other legal entity the victim might have to deal with. The advocate always acts on the victim's behalf and strives to ensure that the victims’ rights are protected and enforced at any opportunity. Victim advocates work with adults and children.
  • Conservation Officer
    Conservation officers protect forests and lakes. They make sure that people who are using these areas do so safely and within the legal standards. A park ranger is an example of a conservation officer but there are many other types of people working in this capacity.

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